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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Google Agrees to Censor Encyclopedia Dramatica Entry in Australia

Google self-censors certain results in countries like France or Germany, and Australia as well. The Sydney Morning Herald writes:

Google has agreed to take down links to a website that promotes racist views of indigenous Australians.

Aboriginal man Steve Hodder-Watt recently discovered the US-based site by searching “Aboriginal and Encyclopedia” in the search engine. (...)

Mr Hodder-Watt then undertook legal action, that resulted in Google acknowledging its legal responsibility to remove the offensive site.

When searching Google Australia for [Aboriginal and Encyclopedia], there will be a disclaimer at the bottom reading “In response to a legal request submitted to Google, we have removed 1 result(s) from this page. If you wish, you may read more about the request at ChillingEffects.org.” The page at Chillig Effects reads:

Google received a complaint about a website that allegedly violates the Australian Anti Discrimination Act. Accordingly, Google removed the website from Google.com.au.

The Encyclopedia Dramatica page in question can be seen normally down the middle of the search results when using google.com. The page has now been updated to reflect on the current events, suggesting that satire was used (and pointing to a very graphical page for people who are offended by it). Encyclopedia Dramatica is not a serious site, but tries to go for humor and hoaxes. Other races or countries aren’t spared as well; at this encyclopedia, Spain is described to be “Devoid of any culture whatsoever”. Another country’s citizens are called “the human scum of the world”, and so on. Encyclopedia Dramatica also has an article titled “White People”, which starts with “It is widely known that white people are the inferior race.” It goes on to mention that “One good thing about the white race is their ability to blindly follow their leaders in perfect lockstep, however ridiculous the instructions might sound.”

Wikipedia’s entry on this encyclopedia states:

Encyclop√¶dia Dramatica is a satirical open wiki built on MediaWiki software. Launched on December 9, 2004, it satirizes both encyclopedic topics and current events, especially those related to or relevant to Internet culture. The site’s “elaborate trolling culture”, chronicling of Internet trolling, use of content with shock value, and criticism of other Internet communities have all gained media coverage and commentary. It is also associated with the Internet subculture Anonymous. Some of the content on Encyclop√¶dia Dramatica is sexually explicit or disturbing, including uncensored material taken from shock sites.

Is Google now agreeing to censor satirical speech? Wikipedia’s entry on satire explains:

A very common, almost defining feature of satire is its strong vein of irony or sarcasm ... The essential point ... is that “in satire, irony is militant.” This “militant irony” (or sarcasm) often professes to approve (or at least accept as natural) the very things the satirist actually wishes to attack.

Whether the censored page in question fits your definition of satire or successful satire is probably up for debate, but it seems in free societies, authorities don’t take away that judgment from their adult citizens (and this is only about adult citizens, because the site is even gone when you disable SafeSearch). I wouldn’t want a government to tell me what’s funny and what isn’t... I’d rather be offended on my own terms, at least when I switch my search settings to not filter anything. And if I’d be an activist and a page is indeed racist, I hope a search engine wouldn’t pretend the page didn’t exist; rather, I would want to know about it, because then I could know what my opponents are up to, and potentially put up pages arguing against their points.

[Via Reddit.]

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